Lancashire in the English Revolution

Here is a brief story of Lancashire and the English Revolution. It’s an odd structure starting in three sections, with the military history, then something of what we know about who people really fought for in the county, and a bit about the Restoration at the end.

The Geography

Lancashire is characterised by plains in the west, rising to the hills of the Pennines in the east, which reach a top height of about 2,000 feet. The major rivers in the county are, from north to south, the Lune, the Wyre, and the Ribble, which all flow west into the Irish Sea. On the coast are the ports of Liverpool and Lancaster.


The Military Story:  War comes to Lancashire

The civil wars in Lancashire came about from both internal struggles for control, and from gthe national pictur enad marching armies. In particular, Lancashire was on the line of march of Prince Rupert’s campaign in 1644 to relieve York, and the Scottish invasions of of 1649 and 1651.

The Revolution – 1643 and the struggle for authority

The Stanley Earls of Derby were the largest landowners in Lancashire by a country mile. James Stanley (1607-1651) had taken no part in the parliamentary debates; but signed up for the king in 1642. He set off to capture the county, but Charles wanted him by his side at Nottingham, and it cost Derby; by the time he returned parliamentary forces under William Brereton had wide control. Stanley regained Preston, burned Lancaster but failed to take the castle , failed to take Preston and was defeated at Whalley. His army seems to have included a lot of clubmen, who effectively ran away when the parliamentary men shouted at them. I simplify for effect. Derby was the Lord of Mann, and so he fled tothe Island.

The Siege of Lathom House, 1644

He left his wife Charlotte, the Countess of Derby to manage the Stanley lands from Lathom House. The Countess refused to accept parliament’s authority or pay its taxes. She tried diplomacy and fair words tokeep her enemies at bay, promising to stick to defending her home. This worked for a while; until in February 1644 Fairfax arrived with 2,000 men. With the exaggerated chivalric courtesy which was ioften a characteristic of grand houses defended by aristocratic women, he demanded her surrender. The Countess was defiant:

‘Although a woman, and a stranger divorced from my friends and robbed of my estate, I am ready to receive your utmost violence, trusting in God for protection and deliverance…go back to your commander and tell that insolent rebel, he shall have neither sons, goods, nor house.’

That’ll be a ‘no’ then. The Countesses defiance became a cause celebre and call to arms for royalists, celebrated in newsheets. They sang a song of traditional values – of chivalry, of the gallant high born champion defying and overwhelming evil rebels.  And since it was the Countess, ramped the chivalry bit up to 11. But since Colonel Rigby, left there to prosecute the siege, still had 2,000 soldiers outside her gate, the outcome was surely never in doubt.

Prince Rupert’s campaign of 1644

Meanwhile, a massive Scottish army had invaded in England in alliance with parliament in January 1644 and changed the balance of power in the North. Previously most of northern England was domoinated by the King, through the Marquis of Newcastle. Now Newcastle was driven back into York and besieged. Charles sent Prince Rupert of the Rhine Palatinate to the rescue.

Advancing from Shrewsbury in May, picking up (English) soldiers sent by the Confederate Association from Ireland, Rupert swept into Lancashire, crossing the Mersey by storming Stockport. At Lathom House, as Rupert moved his way, Colonel Rigby saw that the game was up and ran for safety towards Bolton.  The siege was raised and the Countess was triumphant.

The Bolton Massacre

The retreat to Bolton turned into a mass rout as they flooded into the fortress. Hot on their heels Rupert ordered the Earl of Derby to attack without any attempt at negotiation or discussion of quarter. Bolton was overwhelmed, and followed by a sack of the town which Derby made no attempt to stop. 1,600 may have killed, along with accusations that civilians were tortured and murdered. A reliable number is not available; though since the parish records of people who had been birn within the town record the death of 78, die they did.

After Bolton, Rupert took five days to capture Liverpool, and by the end of June had left the county for Yorkshire. The intervention of force majeur had for the moment turned Lancashire from parliament to royalist control.

Marston Moor and the Second siege

Stuart’s pic from Wigan Church

Within a few weeks, Rupert’s defeat at Marston Moor on 2nd July turned everything upside down once more. Parliament swept back into control. Which brought them once more to Lathom House. This time the Countess was no longer there, having fled to safety on the Isle of Man with the Earl, but the second siege was no shorter. However the position of the roiyalists was very different; the north had now been lost to Charles and there was no prospect of sending any relief armies. The royalists fought hard, until famine forced them to throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers, and they were allowed to leave.

There would still be localised conflicts, such as an incident at Wigan Church in April 1645. 86 royalist soldiers had occupied the church, and help out until a parliamentarian force threatened to fire the church. But Lancashire was now firmly controlled by parliament.

The Second Civil War of 1648

Lancashire was to suffer from its position on one if the main routes south  from Scotland, In 1648, some of the Scots came to an agreement with Charles I known as the Engagement, and an army of 9,000 marched through Lancashire while a series of localised royalist risings were suppressed elsewhere in Wales and England. The Scots were chased down by John Lambert and Oliver Cromwell and defeated at the Battle of Preston, 17-19 August.

The Scottish Invasion of 1651 and the Battle of Wigan Lane

The last stand for the royalist cause in Lancashire was made, predictably, by the Earl of Derby.  In 1650, Charles II signed the Covenant in return for Scottish support to restore him to the English Throne, leading to the Anglo Scottish war. At Dunbar on 3rd September Cromwell had defeated a Scottish army, and then moved North to Perth; by so doing he left the western route into England free for a second Scottish army. Probably on purpose, hoping they would invade and be vulnerable on the march. They obliged. The Scottish invasion entered Lancashire in August 1651, passing through Bolton on 14th with a sharp engagement at Warrington marching onwards into Cheshire.

Derby had planned to join the invasion, but he was late when he landed at Preesall Sands from Man in 15th August; instead Charles appointed him Captain-General of Lancashire and commissioned him to raise an army. Derby managed to raise a raw armed contingent of about 600 horse and 800 foot, but before he could join Charles, he needed to break through Colonel Robert Lilburne with rather fewer foot.

Lilburne prepared his ground on the road from Preston, on the sandy, hedge-lined Wigan Lane, 2 miles north of Wigan. On 2th August Derby attacked, his men charged repeatedly were met by hails of musket shot and after an hour’s fighting broke and fled. They left 64 dead, including Sir Thomas Tyldesley, for whom there is a monument on the site of the battle to this day.

The Earl of Derby managed to escape and join Charles and was therefore part of the defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September. He helped Charles’ flight, but was himself captured. Derby was convicted of treason. The court saw it as fitting that he be executed at the scene of his act of cruelty – Bolton. though Derby went to his grave refusing to accept any wrong doing.

He was executed on 15th October 1651, and tradition has it that he was held at the Man and Scythe Inn, Churchgate, Bolton the night before. Not many came to see him die, though there was a public disturbance which held things up whether in sympathy or anger over the massacre is not clear.

The People of Lancashire: Choosing Allegiances

In general, Lancashire would be controlled by parliament; but that didn’t necessarily follow local loyalties, it seems that the parliamentarians were more active locally, while the more numerous royalist tended to fight for the king out of the county.

In the chequer board of cause for allegiance – class conflict, religion, localism, pacificism, pastoralism – it seems that religion was the main factor that decided your allegiance. That there was a strong remaining Catholic presence among the gentry (100 families of 482 of known allegiance), and a strong puritan element among protestants; and it tends to be these that are more active. The majority kept their heads down.

There were three big magnate families, and they were royalist – including the most important Earl of Derby as previously mentioned, James Stanley – yes, those Stanleys, as in crowns in bushes and rthat sort of thing.

What made people choose?

The most significant emotion was neutralism, or keeping your head down. But it seems there are some interesting wrinkles.

Deference: Allegiance to the Stanleys was a major factor, and despite some trash talk from Clarendon, James Stanley seems to have been a relatively popular landlord. But also – most of the royalist gentry tended to live physically close to the 3 major magnates, whereas parliamentary live out of their direct eye line. That’s interesting!

Religion: Of the six hundreds, only Salford was strongly for parliament. And it was in Salford where puritanism and parliamentarianism was strongest – though oddly not in the town of Salford itself. Manchester was described as ‘a Goshen, a place of light”; Bolton as ‘the Geneva of Lancashire‘.

Social structure: There’s some support for David Underdown’s ‘chalk and cheese’ theory; gentry in the more remote, isolated and independently minded pastoral parishes veered towards parliament; whereas the more nucleated and traditional villages of arable agriculture favoured the king. The few indications we have are that the of majority yeomen, husbandmen and labourers who took part favoured parliament; they signed the Protestation of 1641, villagers fought against the Earl of Derby’s forces, and clubmen joined the soldiers at Bolton in 1644.

The blowing of the wind: The presences of dominant armies is a thing. In 1644 Prince Rupert comes through Lancashire on his way to relieve York, and ‘Then the country thereabout who formerly lurked as neuters do now show themselves in arms for the Earl of Derby.’ Force majeur worked for both sides in the civil wars.

Towns: Only about 11% of people lived in towns, in eleven towns, and in ten of them their loyalties were clear. 4 of them were royalist; Wigan so strongly so that Cromwell would as Protector would have it disenfranchised, and describes it as ‘a great and poor town, and very malignant’. These were the western, inland towns like Preston. The only western towns to hold for parliament were the ports, Liverpool and Lancaster. Most of the eastern clothing towns were for parliament, especially Bolton, but also Manchester, where lived as they proudly declared  ‘the principal men in the Kingdom, next to the most famous and renowned city of London, that fight most prosperously for God and true religion.’

Republic and Restoration in Lancashire

During the Republic, Charles Worsley became Manchester’s first MP; he’d be followed by Richard Radcliffe in 1656 for the Second Protectorate Parliament and then there’d be no more until after the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Major General Charles Worsley recaptured the Isle of Man, and would be in control of districts of Lancashire during the rule of the saints, the Major Generals 1655-7. He was as you might expect, not a fan of alehouses – in the Hundred of Blackburn he ordered ‘200 alehouses to be thrown down’[1]. Still, the poet Richard Braithewaite has probably agreed with the drinking culture; he has his character Drunken Barnaby travel through Lancashire during one of his four Northern Tours, He doesn’t say a lot, but Lancaster itself didn’t endear itself to him from his words – this is supposed to be sung, but the tune has not survived

First place where I first was known a

Was brave John a’ Gain’s old town a [rch]

A seat anciently renowned

But with a store of beggars crowned

For a gaoler ripe and mellow

The world has not such a fellow.

Worsley also complained of the number of ‘papist delinquents’, and the  rise of the Quakers. From 1649 the Republic had worked hard to restore the quality of religion throughout the county, and carried out as survey. Lancashire had a surprisingly small number of parishes for its size, with only 68; and so it also had 118 chapelries, and total of 186. The ministers who took up posts during the attempted ‘rule of the Saints’ were various; Anglican ministers either turned ‘vicars of Bray’ and stayed on or were turfed out and replaced by the Godly.

On the Restoration in 1660 the Cavalier Parliament tried for the last time to impose religious uniformity. 67 ministers were thrown out of their livings; even if all the positions were occupied (unlikely), this means 35% of ministers lost their jobs, against a national picture of 15-20%. Quakers also suffered; the Justice of the Peace Edward Rigby declared that he would

“root the quakers out of the Hundred” and have them “tied to and dragged at either a horse’s or a cart’s tail.”

Lancaster Castle was said to packed with 50 at a time. Despite this – religious pluralism was here to stay, with dissenting conventicles a continuous aspect of the county until the 1689 Toleration Acts.


References, Bibliography and Notes

I was inspired to write this very partial account by two listeners to the podcast. Stuart Ashton of this parish sent a pic from Wigan church about a mysterious battle there in 1645 and the ‘Aus Manc’ on the website wondered at the lack of Cumbrian and Lancastrian stories. So I read up a bit, because local history is the stuff of life. The information above is drawn from a few sources, which I was able to get free. And more specifically:

  • Blackwood, ‘Parties and Issues in the Civil War in Lancashire’, downloaded from The Historic Society of Lancashire and Chesire, at
  • Ernest Broxap, The Great Civil War in Lancashire, 1910
  • Victoria County History, ‘Lancashire’, (British History Online)
  • Henry Fishwick, ‘Lancashire in the time of Charles II’
  • Nick Lipscombe, ‘The English Civil Wars, A Military Atlas’
  • Carlton, Charles ‘Going to the Wars’, 1998

I am sorry, I did not buy the most recent book, (because it costs a few quid and I don’t really have time), which is probably the place to go if you are in the market; it is called ‘The Civil Wars in Lancashire 1640-1660’ by Stephen Bull, 2009.


[1] Fishwick, H: ‘Lancashire in the time of Charles II’, p29

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